Tucson: What Have We Learned?

In the wake of the horrifying shooting spree that took place outside a Tucson supermarket last weekend, the airwaves have been clogged with talk that mostly centers around two things:  the details of what actually happened and who we should blame.

While those are both pressing and important concerns (especially the details that help us to celebrate the lives of those who were killed or wounded), we would be remiss if we did not take some time to think about what we’ve learned since Saturday morning.  As a society, we’ve got a bit of a problem when it comes to difficult and/or catastrophic events: we rarely take time to truly process, grieve, learn.  We jump straight from calamity to blame to action, and rarely look back (until, of course, it is too late and our reactionary measures have helped to cause another catastrophe).

So, let’s take some time to practice together.  What are we learning in the wake of the Tucson shooting?

My learnings include the following:

  • Words matter. It’s not about blaming one person for an event.  It’s not even about blaming an entire movement or group of people for an event.  It’s about acknowledging that words have both creative and destructive power and should be used in thought-full and care-full ways (something that most all of us seem to have forgotten).  If we Church folk really do believe that God’s creative power is/was exercised through Word, if we really take seriously the belief that Jesus is the Divine Word, the Logos, then we have to be more intentional with our use of language – and be willing to be held accountable when the words we choose are destructive.
  • Guns still kill people. Yes, you’ve got to have someone deranged or serious or desperate or enraged enough to pull the trigger… but guns still make it a heck of a lot easier to do so.  Does this mean we should ditch those 2nd amendment rights?  I don’t know.   But I do know that our love affair with guns is wedded to our love affair with violence.  Eventually, if we truly yearn for peace, we’re going to have to start talking about that with honesty and transparency.
  • Mental health care is crucial. You’d think that this would be obvious by now (what with suicides on the rise amongst both military personnel and civilians alike, depression rates climbing, etc.) and yet so many people who need help never receive it – even when their words or behavior cry out for it.  In a society where mental illness is considered weakness, it is little wonder that people don’t get help…  We must do better than this – and church folk can begin by talking openly about mental illness.  We’ve helped to create the stigma by propagating ideas like “depression is just a lack of faith”, so now we must repent of that petty judgment and fearfulness by working for the wholeness of those with mental illness.  If one is wounded, so is the whole Body.
  • Good leadership requires humility. So, when we leaders make mistakes, we need to own up to them.  It can be difficult and painful to do this, and sometimes we need to set boundaries as we are held accountable (for example, while some politicians are absolutely guilty of using violent rhetoric they should not be held personally accountable for the shooting in Tucson), but we DO need to own up to our errors in judgment or intention.  If we don’t, we are poor leaders.  And if we try to shift the blame onto others or make the situation about us instead of those who are hurt, we are abusing the power others have entrusted to us.  Period.

    I’m hoping that this will become a conversation of sorts and that, together, we might begin to shift the dialogue taking place towards mutual learning and relationship.  So, tell me, what have YOU learned this week?

    Scapegoats or Discipline…

    Today I watched a news report about a man who was convicted of raping his own daughter and fathering four children by her.  The report included a comment from the man’s elderly uncle who said that the father shouldn’t receive the steepest sentence because he was a “good man” and the daughter could have “said no” or “gone to her mother.”

    Made me sick.

    But it brought to the forefront of my mind/heart the way that we are so good at blaming victims and addressing symptoms instead of digging deep in search of the root problems.

    • I don’t care how many examples there are of “professional panhandlers” – most homeless human beings don’t “choose to be homeless”.

    • I don’t care how many examples there are of “kids who are out of control” – kids don’t deserve to be neglected or abused.

    • I don’t care how short her skirt is – women and girls don’t deserve to be raped.  (and they certainly aren’t “asking for it”)

    • I don’t care how many kids she has by however many fathers – single mothers aren’t the root cause of poverty.

    • I don’t care how frightened or angered or appalled you are by homosexuality (whether its for religious reasons, or not) – people of other sexual orientations are not the cause of broken families and marriages.

    If we want to find solutions to these very real problems, we need discipline.  Because without discipline, we won’t be able to stand looking deep within ourselves (individually and corporately)…at the darkness of greed and selfishness and judgment and rage and fear and lust for power/control that are really at the root of these societal ills.

    Without discipline, we will find yet another scapegoat to pin the problem on and throw under the bus – and chances are so very good that the scapegoat will be one of the people already devastated by the problem at hand.

    Without emotional & spiritual discipline, it’s easy to fall into traps set for us by commentators on both sides of the divide. And as long as we spend our energy fighting each other, the more time and space there is for injustice/oppression to spread. Let us be a disciplined, compassionate community that seeks out root problems instead of attacking victims & symptoms.

    Because, without discipline, we are part of the problem.